Sexism on the internet is far from new, but it’s only in the last few years that we’ve really started talking about it. This is partly because contemporary feminists are the first generation to have lived the majority of their adult lives online, and are now ready to challenge the notion that just by being visible on the internet, women are somehow asking for abuse.
So what is cybersexism? Is it an inevitable part of women’s online experience? How can we battle sexist trolls? Why do trolls even exist in the first place? And how can we reclaim cyberspace for women? Here’s a reading list to get you started:
In 2013 journalist Laurie Penny was sent a series of bomb threats via Twitter and was forced to go into hiding. While she was living in a safe house, cut off from all her online profiles and communities, Penny wrote Cybersexism: a blistering takedown of online misogyny and the way society protects trolls while leaving women vulnerable to abuse. Angry, personal and insightful, this is Penny at her best. By examining the potential the internet has to help women and other overlooked communities, Penny manages to both enrage and inspire her readers.
While Penny looks at what cybersexism is and why it’s flourishing, Jeong is concerned with the legal and ethical implications. A journalist who studied law, Jeong documents the growth of online harassment, using both famous case studies and lesser known cases to investigate the ethical and practical issues around free speech, doxxing, spam and cyberstalking. This includes an insightful overview of how content platforms and social media providers can create a more inclusive, constructive, online experience for their users.
Named after the popular meme that claims internet trolls are the reason “we can’t have nice things”: Whitney Phillips’ book places trolling within a wider framework of intolerance. Philips demonstrates the way that trolling is a business strategy for online content providers, the way that the mainstream media often feeds off and encourages the trolling of their own journalists, and the way that trolls both parrot media tropes and reflect society’s own commitment to intolerance. “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things isn’t only about trolls; it’s about a culture in which trolls thrive.”
Danielle Keats Citron wrote Hate Crimes In Cyberspace in response to the suggestion that cyberbullying is somehow inevitable and beyond the reach of law enforcement. Citron rejects the idea that the internet is some kind of “Wild West… last bastion of free speech” and argues that providing a safe space for all users must take priority. Although the book focuses mainly on US law and case studies, it offers a practical framework for all activists looking to challenge the way society views and responds to online harassment.
These books might not be light reading, but they are worth it and essential in the fight against online harassment and misogyny.